On Liberty Island in New York Harbor is the Statue of Liberty standing 151 feet tall. She weighs 280 tons and is visible from 42 miles away on a bright day. The sight of her is simply breath taking. In her right hand, she holds a dazzling, flaming torch, a display of victory and progression. Her head is held up high and placed on top of it is a glorious crown with seven rays all measuring 9 feet in length; symbolizing she will spread liberty to the seven continents of the earth. In her left hand is a tablet with “July IV MDCCLXXVI” written in it. This represents the date of the Declaration of Independence. Her waistline is almost 35 feet wide. Wrapped in a flowing copper robe, she is standing on broken chains symbolizing that she has wrecked free from the ruthless hand of tyranny. Dedicated in 1886, the statue is a symbol of political freedom. Yet her beauty goes beyond just that of a monumental figure. Over the years, she has welcomed hosts of visitors and immigrants and has eventually become a symbol of the US to the world. (Penner 2003). This essay analyzes and interprates this iconic work of art as it tries to comprehend what may have been the artist’s original idea behind such a magnificent symbol.
The young man who designed the statue was Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, a French sculptor inspired by Édouard René de Laboulaye. He thought New York City was the best place to put up the statue after travelling across the country and asking people how the statue should look like. France agreed to make the statue, and America would make a base for the statue. However, to make a statue of that enormity would demand many resources and it took both countries a while to raise all the money needed. During that time, Bartholdi served as a major in the Franco-Prussian war, which further delayed the project. The statue would be made from iron and copper. Another problem was that Bartholdi couldn’t make such an enormous work of art all by himself; therefore, he asked another engineer named Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel to assist him and it was him who designed the inside structure. (Duby 2000).
Bartholdi and Laboulaye had to consider how best to depict American liberty. During that time, there were two female figures commonly used as cultural symbols in America. One of them was Columbia. The other notable female icon was Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom. She was a representation of liberty, and during that time, representations of liberty were seen in many popular and civic arts, including coins. They both wanted to avoid depicting any form of revolutionary liberty. For example, in Eugène Delacroix's famous Liberty Leading the People (1830) painting depicts a half-clothed Liberty leading an armed mob over bodies of fallen victims. Laboulaye was not sympathetic to revolution, and so the statue of Liberty would be fully dressed in flowing robes. Instead of depicting violence as seen in the work of Delacroix, which signified France’s 1830 revolution, Bartholdi wanted the statue to have an appearance of peace and chose to have a torch representing progress. (Duby 2000).
When looking at the Statue of Liberty, many subtle symbolic it elicits many subtle messages of liberation. For example, the statue represents both freedom and friendship between France and the United States because as it is evident, French citizens helped raise money for the statue and Americans financed the construction of the pedestal. (Duby 2000). The Statue of Liberty has also become a symbol of freedom to the immigrants who have come to America. This is because the statue is located on Liberty Island, next to Ellis Island where over 12 million immigrants entered the country between 1892 and 1954. The broken chains on Liberty’s feet also have a symbolic meaning as they symbolize freedom of the American nation from slavery and oppression. (Penner 2003). Finally, the seven spikes on Liberty’s crown symbolize the seven continents and the seven seas of the world. I think this is a symbolic message that freedom and liberty should be spread to all nations and to every corner of the world.
My interpretation of the Statue of Liberty subscribes to that of both Bartholdi and Laboulaye. I think it was a noble idea not portraying the statue in a revolutionary aspect as Delacroix had done because with revolution comes violence, bloodshed and unrest. In contrast, the Statue of Liberty in New York poses as an icon of peace, freedom and release. Therefore, what has been happening at the global scene influences my thoughts, feelings and choice of this piece of art. We are witnessing many revolutions in Africa, in Egypt for instance, and that has claimed many lives. I am inclined to believe that we should be spreading liberty instead of revolution. In addition, I believe the Statue of Liberty is not just there for aesthetic value, but it strongly serves this purpose.
One may ask; what really contributes to the success of the Statue of Liberty? Is it just because it is a monumental sculpture? It is true that in our modern culture, there are not much sculptures of that vastness shaped but monumentality has always been something we honor but built with reluctance. On the other hand, is it Bartholdi’s talent that really dazzles us? This is not entirely true because when we look at the statue itself, we forget to notice the astounding work of Richard Morris Hunt, who designed the statue’s spectacular base, and was more notable in his profession than Bartholdi was in his. (Penner 2003). What really contributes to the sensation of the Statue of Liberty as work of art is none of these aspects on their own, but all of these things balanced together. It is a formidable force of utmost value in our society. Even though it is not the only symbol in America, I think it is the most intensely personal one. On top of that, it is not only gracefully proportioned, but it is also a spectacular piece of sculpture.
Furthermore, I think the Statue of Liberty is in its current place on purpose. It is not in the middle of the Nevada desert, but is on an island and out in the harbor where it performs a gesture of welcoming as it faces out to the sea. It thus enters into an essential relationship with New York City and this is another explanation of its brilliance as both a symbol and a work of art. To those people seeing the statue from out at sea, this great monument pulls the city of New York together, making the intense activity of the city background, as the statue itself becomes foreground; the face of the city. What more could we possibly ask it to do?
I think the true display of the strength of the statue as a symbol was displayed during the liberty weekend in July 1986 when people were celebrating both the restoration of the statue and it’s centenary. Both President Ronald Reagan and François Mitterrand of France were present. Reagan talked of the comradeship between America and France and after the speeches; there was a display of spectacular fireworks set above the statue as well as New York’s skyline. Pictures of the statue were taken from every angle, at every time of both day and night and were displayed everywhere on the television, magazines and newspapers. As the frenzy got to its peak, small, green, availability foam rubber hats enabled every tourist to transform their head into liberty’s majestic crown.
I think the Statue of liberty is the most beautiful work of art I have ever seen. One of the things that make me think it is good and beautiful is the broken chains wrapped around the statue’s feet subtly protruding from underneath the robes. This feature portrays the statue’s freedom to go forth enlightening the world with the bright shining torch free of servitude and subjugation. In addition, standing at 151 feet, the top of the Statue is one of the few places one can experience the true beauty of New York City. After the 1986 restoration, the statue’s torch was covered with gold, a true depiction of its glory and symbol it has on America.